Friday, April 25, 2014

Not THAT Many Violins! When Pathos Goes Awry

In my last post, I talked about appealing to emotion in your nonprofit communications. I briefly mentioned that while emotion is necessary, it is also dangerous. 

While tugging at heart strings is all well and good, too much of a yank can actually work against you. So today I'm writing about the dangers within pathos.

Objects in Our Materials May Appear Larger Than They Actually Are

A heart-warming story doesn’t have to be grand in scale. It could just be a really nice thing you were able to do for your clients. Things that are sad don’t have to be made tragic. Things that are great don’t have to be made the greatest. Don’t downplay the impact of your actions, but don’t inflate them either. It gives the readers the sense that you’re manipulating their emotions, and makes you appear untrustworthy.

I Wouldn't Refer to Myself as "Devastated" Would You?

A good general rule is always assume your clients will read everything you write about them. People who have no problem talking about how your organization changed their lives may not take too kindly to being referred to in ways that make them seem pitiful or pathetic. They are not a prop in your story--it’s a story the organization and the client share. The easiest way to avoid offending clients is by letting them tell the story themselves. ‘“I felt like there was no hope,” said Amy’ packs a punch, while "Amy was absolutely hopeless" may feel like a punch in the gut to Amy herself.

All of the Feels, None of the Facts

You can't leave out facts and authority--people need more than emotional reasons to get involved with your organization or make a gift. People can have an emotional response to a communications piece without taking any action. They feel the feelings, and move on. Without concrete reasons to give, volunteer, or do something, feelings are just feelings.

Even if a one-time hit in the emotions does result in one time action, if you're looking to build a relationship you're also going to have to prove you're trustworthy, responsible, effective and strategic. 

 Have you ever felt your heart strings got pulled on too hard? How did you respond?

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